Tuesday, February 12, 2013


The Name Unspoken

[Prior to the beginning of the season, a broad assumption was made by many a fan that the career of Tomas Kaberle was at an end, a mere 6 month wait away from a buyout.

But then a funny thing happened, a rookie GM went over his own deadline in signing his RFA and Kaberle saw the light of day. He played in 5 of the 6 games before the erstwhile defender returned and then stood in as a spare part for the game of the return itself.

An interesting thing happened when this player, career written off took to the ice, his team won an unexpected 4 of 6 games, notching an impressive tally of 20 goals for (10 on the PP, 10 at ES) to go with 13 GA. Since that time, the team has won once in four attempts, with a total of 7 goals for (2 on the PP, 5 at ES) and allowed 13 again.

Although we are going to ire the statistical purists (sample is small and wrought with variables), questions like the one about Kaberle's use are precisely those that need to be asked and answered quickly in a short season like this one. While there is no question that 30 of 30 teams would prefer to ice PK Subban to Tomas Kaberle v. 2013 every day of the week, the question that remains is does icing PK Subban mean sidelining Kaberle?

I suppose to answer this we must consider all the things that Kaberle brings to the table, both positive and negative. We'll start with the negative.

I think even Tomas Kaberle would agree that at this point of his career (and even at its height), defence is not the name of his game. It would be generous to say he manages in the defensive end. rarely does the spectator expect the door to be slammed to the opposition when they see #22 backing in. With this, we see the associated weakness of low usefulness on the penalty kill. Essentially, a coach would like to shelter Kaberle from the need of carrying out duties that entail a majority of defensive end play. Other weaknesses associated with this are weakness in front of his own net, and tendency to look panicky (if not actually panic).

Admittedly, this isn't a good start. That's a lot to consider for a coach that wants to begin with a solid foundation in his own end. To take the handicap would take some serious positives in the balance.

The positives for Kaberle begin with his ability to begin offensive movements and generally contribute goals to his team's ledger. At his height, he was elite in this regard. For nearly a decade, one could count on Kaberle to make goals. The question, however, is not on the past, but whether the past talents still linger in enough quantity to warrant a look on these Habs.

To look at the stats, the answer is yes.

In 2011-12, Kaberle came to the Canadiens and by ice time showed that he can still be a contributor to a team offense. He was on the ice for 2.68 GF/60 at ES and 7.24 GF/60 on the PP. The PP number is not one to hold up and be too proud of, the Habs PP was a problem spot last year, and 5.59 GF/60 (though highest on the team and higher than PK Subban) is a low rate in the scheme of things. But 3.63 GF/60 at ES is intriguing. Firstly we know, he was not on the ice with the top line (who all clocked 3.2 GF/60 at ES last season) much last season. Other than three, he trailed only Subban's 2.77 GF/60 on the team of 2011-12. Of course, he needs better shelter than playing with Chris Campoli, with whom he conspired to bleed all those goals for back and more (3.22 GA/60 at ES), but perhaps it could be achieved.

In terms of creating goals, he was the top defender on the team in 2011-12. Well in a dead heat. At ES, both he and PK created 0.30 GF/60. on the PP Kaberle created 0.91 GF/60 to PK's 0.94.

The story in 2013 thus far has been much the same on offence.

He's once again just managed to be around for offence, third on the team only to Gallagher and Galchenyuk with a gaudy 3.86 GF/60. To give you some idea of where that stands, see Markov with 2.43 GF/60, Subban with 1.88 GF/60 and Diaz with 1.61 GF/60. He has created a team leading 0.36 GF/60 at ES, though that is paired with a zero on the PP (for his 20 minutes of trouble).

I suppose the question with Kaberle really is, can a team afford to play the risk of terrible defence to reap the reward of his instinctive knack for offence?

The sheltering in the first 7 games was adequate. Kaberle was only on the ice for a single goal against at ES in 60 odd minutes of ice time (that's 0.96 GAA). Perhaps he got shelter, but as the best ranking defenceman on the team (apart from Weber), he outdid his partners somehow.

The question for a coach should be, how can I shelter this guy properly to be able to take advantage of a potent asset. And what an asset so far this season. It is baffling to me to me that a team that is composed of players with a history of trouble in creating ES dominance and with a little spell where that very problem is flaring again, that a coach would not ask this very question.

To implement the change would take some tough choices, but let me suggest the replacement of Diaz. I have nothing against the Swiss defender, and think that few would have done better to adapt to a new ice surface. But my opinion is not at issue. Therrien has a mental block with Diaz, and it doesn't appear to be going away. He has somehow managed to park the explosive defender in a bombproof shelter. Another alternative would be the 7 defenders, but that two would end in me saying that Diaz be parked at ES to try and take advantage of whatever it is that Kaberle seems to be doing at ES to start offensive moves (hidden from the naked eye of course).

I understand that Kaberle has little love in Montreal. Too long did his rosy cheeks and blank smile stand over a Toronto humiliation of our sadsack teams. But running a team is about asking all the questions, testing all the hypotheses. In a season where a forced experiment with Tomas Kaberle went extremely well, I wonder why a coach in search for offence doesn't look first to this tack, and not the disruption of a line that once scored at an elite level.

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